The 2022 holiday season is expected to be full of challenges, from continued issues with supply chains and rising costs to growing staffing pressures. To breakdown exactly what the challenges are and how to face them amid the fast-approaching holidays, Accenture surveyed 150 U.S. retail executives and compared findings to consumer expectations.
Some of the most persistent challenges facing retailers this season are workforce related, with issues in recruitment, retention and wage inflation. Ninety-nine percent of retail executives surveyed said their company has undertaken additional measures to address the workforces challenge with 57 percent describing the measures as “extraordinary.”
A closer look revealed that for 36 percent there were challenges specifically in attracting candidates and 48 percent also said that interviewing and progressing candidates through the recruitment process is not quick enough. Other challenges included training new joiners (43 percent), demand for higher rates of pay (47 percent), levels of attrition (42 percent) and upskilling existing colleagues (38 percent).
“For the past few years, retailers have been faced with a workers’ market, where a surge in people moving between jobs, raised costs and impacted the level of customer service,” said Jill Standish, senior managing director at Accenture who leads its Retail industry group globally. “With the number of global active retail job openings growing by 174 percent year-over-year, retailers recognize the dynamic between employee and employer has shifted and focusing efforts on improving recruitment processes, increasing salaries and adjusting contracts, is only part of the equation. It’s a big challenge, but forward-thinking retailers can use this as an opportunity to make changes that will help with its long-term growth while ensuring a truly diverse, dedicated and adaptable workforce.”
Notably, results from the company’s consumer survey the effects of labor shortages were definitely noticed with a third of consumers reporting they have experienced longer waiting times when shopping in-store and nearly 28 percent saying they had encountered less helpful or less knowledgeable employees.
Unsurprisingly, these experiences have the potential for negative consequences for retailers. A majority (86 percent) of consumers said they would shop with one retailer over another if the staff were more knowledgeable and provided help or advice while another 82 percent said that attentive and friendly staff would also win their business away from another retailer.
Some of the steps retail executives said they are taking to address the labor challenge included redesigning training and recruitment processes (51 percent), offering retention bonuses to existing employees (42 percent) and offering new joiner bonuses to new recruits (41 percent).
These investments have been seen by companies including Amazon who recently announced increasing wages for frontline workers and providing more access to career advancement and development programs. Target also announced intentions to hire up to 100,000 seasonal workers in stores and supply chain facilities nationwide while Walmart shared plans to hire approximately 40,000 workers in its U.S. business and hire 1,500 drivers to ensure the Walmart Private Fleet is prepared to deliver during the busy season.
“As retailers gear up for the holiday season — and beyond — they’ll need to think beyond monetary incentives to attract and retain retail workers,” said Lori Zumwinkle, senior managing director at Accenture who leads the Retail industry group in North America. “A growing number of employees aren’t only motivated by the benefits package on offer, they’re looking for something more fundamental such as flexibility, greater job satisfaction and meaning.”
Going forward, Standish and Zumwinkle said digital technologies will play a large role as well, not just in attracting and training employees but to provide more interesting and rewarding jobs.
“For instance, investments in artificial intelligence can help retail workers spot trends and make decisions faster, and robotics can automate highly manual tasks so that frontline workers can spend more time interacting with consumers,” Standish said. “And as employees gain more retail knowledge and tech expertise, they will have the opportunity to fill roles such as data-driven marketer or brand ambassador.”
An example of this is Walmart’s introduction of a workplace app that uses technology like machine learning, augmented reality, camera vision and AI to help employees simplify daily tasks, serve customers and plan for life outside of work.
“Innovative retailers are turning to technology to engage and empower employees who are increasingly tech-savvy,” Zumwinkle said. “Using virtual reality and AR to provide immersive training and development, or employee-facing mobile apps store employees can manage their shifts and view their schedules, use a voice-activated personal assistant to answer common questions, such as where certain items are located throughout the store, and eventually, use the app to scan merchandise in the backroom.”